Recently I’ve noticed a disturbing trend among some of the bloggers I know. It seems that nearly every one of them have suddenly become experts on starting a blog or using WordPress – and you are incredibly lucky, because now they want to help you start a blog, too! Doesn’t that sound exciting?
Well, maybe not.
A new client approached me last week for help with her blog. Funny enough, she started blogging with the free “help” of one of my own clients. Let me break that down for you. One of my clients, who paid me to install WordPress and a theme just a few months ago because they didn’t know how to do it, is now offering to help others start a blog. Am I the only one who sees red flags here?
Here’s what happened. New Client registered a domain and signed up for hosting under Existing Client’s guidance, using Existing Client’s affiliate links. New Client purchased a premium WordPress theme and several premium plugins, again using Existing Client’s affiliate links. New Client even got Existing Client to design a free “logo” that is nothing more than clip art and text from MS Word. And now New Client has no idea what to do with any of it.
So after all that “free” help, this person is stuck with a slow site on a crappy host, a premium theme that has recently been abandoned by its developers, an ugly logo, and a bunch of plugins she doesn’t even need. And she is now paying me to teach her to use WordPress because the person who was such a blogging expert couldn’t give her the tools she needs to do what she wanted to do all along – start and grow a blog.
Nothing in This Life is Free
If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.
I understand bloggers wanting to earn money. I really do. And I understand the desire to do that through affiliate links – I use them myself. What I don’t understand is offering a “service” that is (1) beyond one’s scope and (2) doesn’t help the recipients of that service in the long run.
I am an affiliate for a handful of products that I use every day in my development work. I don’t recommend them just because I’ll make a certain amount of money from referrals – that isn’t helpful to anyone. But the biggest difference between me and some of the people I see offering free blog help is the fact that my recommendations are based on years of experience.
Let’s take web hosting as an example, since that’s one of the most common ways bloggers try to earn an affiliate income. (Like Pat Flynn from Smart Passive Income, who makes over $20k a month referring his readers to Bluehost, one of the worst hosts on the planet.) If a blogger you follow is recommending a certain host, you should ask yourself a few questions before you click that blogger’s affiliate link:
- How many hosts has this person used? If this is their first website and they’ve had it for 4 months, are they really qualified to say their host is better than any other?
- What factors are they using to evaluate the host? It’s not enough to say, “I’ve hosted here for a year and I’ve never had any problems.” Does this person even know enough about servers and hosting to recognize what problems may look like? How can you say a host has “great customer service” if you’ve never talked to their customer service reps?
- Does the person still host there? I mentioned Pat Flynn above. Now, I have met Pat and I have a tremendous amount of respect for him, but I dislike the way he touts Bluehost. His sites outgrew shared hosting a LONG time ago and he no longer uses Bluehost at all. So how can he recommend a host that he doesn’t even use himself?
- Are the “features” mentioned even really features? Nothing grinds my gears like seeing a recommendation for a host that is supposed to be great because they offer a one-click WordPress installation. Here’s a hint: ALL hosts offer a one-click WordPress installation. That’s not a reason to choose a host.
So let’s say you follow the advice of John Q Blogger or Pat Flynn and sign up with Bluehost. If you stick around awhile, you’ll realize very quickly that (1) your site is slow, (2) their custom CPanel layout is redundant and confusing, and (3) their customer service reps aren’t very knowledgeable. You’ll also find out that you have to pay extra for things like full CPanel backups. Oh, and there’s the fact that you have to prepay for your hosting account at least a year in advance.
What did you get for following that “free” advice? A hosting service that people are leaving in droves (just search for Bluehost on Twitter). And while you’re trying to figure out if you can get a refund and go elsewhere (you can), the blogger whose link you clicked just made $65. And s/he doesn’t care what kind of experience you have with Bluehost because s/he already got paid.
The Problem with Free Advice
The great thing about the internet is that anyone can start a website or YouTube channel and literally become famous. (However, that doesn’t mean everyone can, so don’t fool yourself into thinking you’ll be the next Marie Forleo.)
The bad thing about the internet is that anyone can say anything they want, whether or not it’s true. So someone who knows nothing about WordPress or coding or graphics can say they’re a web designer, take your money, and rip you off. Someone who is an intermediate blogger at best can offer you the opportunity to click his or her affiliate links as part of his/her “free” WordPress help, with no concept of whether or not those products and services are best for your needs.
Having the universe at our fingertips has made us lazy. People fail to do adequate research before opening their wallets or clicking a link – if you need proof, just look at all the random scams people repost on Facebook. Because of things like that, people with legitimate businesses and the knowledge to be a real help to you often get pushed aside in favor of whatever people think will allow them to make money on the internet with no effort or expenses.
People who actually know things aren’t going to tell you what they know for free. Think about your career and the time it took to gain experience, as well as the money you might have spent on training or college degrees. Would you do your job if you weren’t getting paid? Most people wouldn’t, unless they were getting something out of it.
The Bottom Line
It seems like everyone wants to escape his/her day job, earn a living online, and become some kind of internet guru. It’s easy to look at someone’s blog posts about all their online income and think, Hey, I could do that! Often, though, what you don’t see is the real breakdown of where that money comes from. If a blogger earns thousands of dollars a month from sponsored blog posts, for instance, you have to ask yourself whether that’s a sustainable business model.
If someone wants to help you get started blogging or making money on the internet, you need to take time to understand what’s in it for them. No one works for free, myself included – if a person is helping you, you can bet s/he is benefiting somehow. If you’re okay with that, by all means, accept all the free help you want! Just don’t be disappointed if the results aren’t quite what you expect.